- Author : Agatha Christie
'The Mystery of the Blue Jar' was first published in the UK in issue 233 of The Grand Magazine in July 1924 and in the US in Metropolitan Magazine the same year. Reprinted in The Hound of Death and Other Stories (UK, 1933) and The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (US, 1948).
The Mystery of the Blue Jar
by Agatha Christie
Jack Hartington surveyed his topped drive ruefully. Standing by the ball, he looked back to the tee, measuring the distance. His face was eloquent of the disgusted contempt which he felt. With a sigh he drew out his iron, executed two vicious swings with it, annihilating in turn a dandelion and a tuft of grass, and then addressed himself firmly to the ball.
It is hard when you are twenty-four years of age, and your one ambition in life is to reduce your handicap at golf, to be forced to give time and attention to the problem of earning your living. Five and a half days out of the seven saw Jack imprisoned in a kind of mahogany tomb in the city. Saturday afternoon and Sunday were religiously devoted to the real business of life, and in an excess of zeal he had taken rooms at the small hotel near Stourton Heath links, and rose daily at the hour of six a.m. to get in an hour’s practice before catching the 8.46 to town.
The only disadvantage to the plan was that he seemed constitutionally unable to hit anything at that hour in the morning. A foozled iron succeeded a muffed drive. His mashie shots ran merrily along the ground, and four putts seemed to be the minimum on any green.
Jack sighed, grasped his iron firmly and repeated to himself the magic words, ‘Left arm right through, and don’t look up.’
He swung back—and then stopped, petrified, as a shrill cry rent the silence of the summer’s morning.
‘Murder,’ it called. ‘Help! Murder!’
It was a woman’s voice, and it died away at the end into a sort of gurgling sigh.
Jack flung down his club and ran in the direction of the sound. It had come from somewhere quite near at hand. This particular part of the course was quite wild country, and there were few houses about. In fact, there was only one near at hand, a small picturesque cottage, which Jack had often noticed for its air of old world daintiness. It was towards this cottage that he ran. It was hidden from him by a heather-covered slope, but he rounded this and in less than a minute was standing with his hand on the small latched gate.
There was a girl standing in the garden, and for a moment Jack jumped to the natural conclusion that it was she who had uttered the cry for help. But he quickly changed his mind.
She had a little basket in her hand, half full of weeds, and had evidently just straightened herself up from weeding a wide border of pansies. Her eyes, Jack noticed, were just like pansies themselves, velvety and soft and dark, and more violet than blue. She was like a pansy altogether, in her straight purple linen gown.
The girl was looking at Jack with an expression midway between annoyance and surprise.
‘I beg your pardon,’ said the young man. ‘But did you cry out just now?’
‘I? No, indeed.’
Her surprise was so genuine that Jack felt confused. Her voice was very soft and pretty with a slight foreign inflection.
‘But you must have heard it,’ he exclaimed. ‘It came from somewhere just near here.’
She stared at him.
‘I heard nothing at all.’
Jack in his turn stared at her. It was perfectly incredible that she should not have heard that agonized appeal for help. And yet her calmness was so evident that he could not believe she was lying to him.
‘It came from somewhere close at hand,’ he insisted.
She was looking at him suspiciously now.
‘What did it say?’ she asked.
‘Murder—help! murder,’ repeated the girl. ‘Somebody has played a trick on you, Monsieur. Who could be murdered here?’
Jack looked about him with a confused idea of discovering a dead body upon a garden path. Yet he was still perfectly sure that the cry he had heard was real and not a product of his imagination. He looked up at the cottage windows. Everything seemed perfectly still and peaceful.
‘Do you want to search our house?’ asked the girl drily.
She was so clearly sceptical that Jack’s confusion grew deeper than ever. He turned away.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘It must have come from higher up in the woods.’
He raised his cap and retreated. Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw that the girl had calmly resumed her weeding.
For some time he hunted through the woods, but could find no sign of anything unusual having occurred. Yet he was as positive as ever that he had really heard the cry. In the end, he gave up the search and hurried home to bolt his breakfast and catch the 8.46 by the usual narrow margin of a second or so. His conscience pricked him a little as he sat in the train. Ought he not to have immediately reported what he had heard to the police? That he had not done so was solely owing to the pansy girl’s incredulity. She had clearly suspected him of romancing—possibly the police might do the same. Was he absolutely certain that he had heard the cry?
By now he was not nearly so positive as he had been—the natural result of trying to recapture a lost sensation. Was it some bird’s cry in the distance that he had twisted into the semblance of a woman’s voice?
But he rejected the suggestion angrily. It was a woman’s voice, and he had heard it. He remembered looking at his watch just before the cry had come. As nearly as possible it must have been five and twenty minutes past seven when he had heard the call. That might be a fact useful to the police if—if anything should be discovered.
Going home that evening, he scanned the evening papers anxiously to see if there were any mention of a crime having been committed. But there was nothing, and he hardly knew whether to be relieved or disappointed.
The following morning was wet—so wet that even the most ardent golfer might have his enthusiasm damped. Jack rose at the last possible moment, gulped his breakfast, ran for the train and again eagerly scanned the papers. Still no mention of any gruesome discovery having been made. The evening papers told the same tale.
‘Queer,’ said Jack to himself, ‘but there it is. Probably some blinking little boys having a game together up in the woods.’
He was out early the following morning. As he passed the cottage, he noted out of the tail of his eye that the girl was out in the garden again weeding. Evidently a habit of hers. He did a particularly good approach shot, and hoped that she had noticed it. As he teed up on the next tee, he glanced at his watch.
‘Just five and twenty past seven,’ he murmured. ‘I wonder—’
The words were frozen on his lips. From behind him came the same cry which had so startled him before. A woman’s voice, in dire distress.
Jack raced back. The pansy girl was standing by the gate. She looked startled, and Jack ran up to her triumphantly, crying out:
‘You heard it this time, anyway.’
Her eyes were wide with some emotion he could not fathom but he noticed that she shrank back from him as he approached, and even glanced back at the house, as though she meditated running to it for shelter.
She shook her head, staring at him.
‘I heard nothing at all,’ she said wonderingly.
It was as though she had struck him a blow between the eyes. Her sincerity was so evident that he could not disbelieve her. Yet he couldn’t have imagined it—he couldn’t—he couldn’t—
He heard her voice speaking gently—almost with sympathy.
‘You have had the shell-shock, yes?’
In a flash he understood her look of fear, her glance back at the house. She thought that he suffered from delusions . . .
And then, like a douche of cold water, came the horrible thought, was she right? Did he suffer from delusions? Obsessed by the horror of the thought, he turned and stumbled away without vouchsafing a word. The girl watched him go, sighed, shook her head, and bent down to her weeding again.
Jack endeavoured to reason matters out with himself. ‘If I hear the damned thing again at twenty-five minutes past seven,’ he said to himself, ‘it’s clear that I’ve got hold of a hallucination of some sort. But I won’t hear it.’
He was nervous all that day, and went to bed early determined to put the matter to the proof the following morning.
As was perhaps natural in such a case, he remained awake half the night, and finally overslept himself. It was twenty past seven by the time he was clear of the hotel and running towards the links. He realized that he would not be able to get to the fatal spot by twenty-five past, but surely, if the voice was a hallucination pure and simple, he would hear it anywhere. He ran on, his eyes fixed on the hands of his watch.
Twenty-five past. From far off came the echo of a woman’s voice, calling. The words could not be distinguished, but he was convinced that it was the same cry he had heard before, and that it came from the same spot, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the cottage.
Strangely enough, that fact reassured him. It might, after all, be a hoax. Unlikely as it seemed, the girl herself might be playing a trick on him. He set his shoulders resolutely, and took out a club from his golf bag. He would play the few holes up to the cottage.
The girl was in the garden as usual. She looked up this morning, and when he raised his cap to her, said good morning rather shyly . . . She looked, he thought, lovelier than ever.
‘Nice day, isn’t it?’ Jack called out cheerily, cursing the unavoidable banality of the observation.
‘Yes, indeed, it is lovely.’
‘Good for the garden, I expect?’
The girl smiled a little, disclosing a fascinating dimple.
‘Alas, no! For my flowers the rain is needed. See, they are all dried up.’
Jack accepted the invitation of her gesture, and came up to the low hedge dividing the garden from the course, looking over it into the garden.
‘They seem all right,’ he remarked awkwardly, conscious as he spoke of the girl’s slightly pitying glance running over him.
‘The sun is good, is it not?’ she said. ‘For the flowers one can always water them. But the sun gives strength and repairs the health. Monsieur is much better today, I can see.’
Her encouraging tone annoyed Jack intensely.
‘Curse it all,’ he said to himself. ‘I believe she’s trying to cure me by suggestion.’
‘I’m perfectly well,’ he said irritably.
‘That is good then,’ returned the girl quickly and soothingly.
Jack had the irritating feeling that she didn’t believe him.
He played a few more holes and hurried back to breakfast. As he ate it, he was conscious, not for the first time, of the close scrutiny of a man who sat at the table next to him. He was a man of middle age, with a powerful forceful face. He had a small dark beard and very piercing grey eyes, and an ease and assurance of manner which placed him among the higher ranks of the professional classes. His name, Jack knew, was Lavington, and he had heard vague rumours as to his being a well-known medical specialist, but as Jack was not a frequenter of Harley Street, the name had conveyed little or nothing to him.
But this morning he was very conscious of the quiet observation under which he was being kept, and it frightened him a little. Was his secret written plainly in his face for all to see? Did this man, by reason of his professional calling, know that there was something amiss in the hidden grey matter?
Jack shivered at the thought. Was it true? Was he really going mad? Was the whole thing a hallucination, or was it a gigantic hoax?
And suddenly a very simple way of testing the solution occurred to him. He had hitherto been alone on his round. Supposing someone else was with him? Then one out of three things might happen. The voice might be silent. They might both hear it. Or—he only might hear it.
That evening he proceeded to carry his plan into effect. Lavington was the man he wanted with him. They fell into conversation easily enough—the older man might have been waiting for such an opening. It was clear that for some reason or other Jack interested him. The latter was able to come quite easily and naturally to the suggestion that they might play a few holes together before breakfast. The arrangement was made for the following morning.
They started out a little before seven. It was a perfect day, still and cloudless, but not too warm. The doctor was playing well, Jack wretchedly. His whole mind was intent on the forthcoming crisis. He kept glancing surreptitiously at his watch. They reached the seventh tee, between which and the hole the cottage was situated, about twenty past seven.
The girl, as usual, was in the garden as they passed. She did not look up.
Two balls lay on the green, Jack’s near the hole, the doctor’s some little distance away.
‘I’ve got this for it,’ said Lavington. ‘I must go for it, I suppose.’
He bent down, judging the line he should take. Jack stood rigid, his eyes glued to his watch. It was exactly twenty-five minutes past seven.
The ball ran swiftly along the grass, stopped on the edge of the hole, hesitated and dropped in.
‘Good putt,’ said Jack. His voice sounded hoarse and unlike himself . . . He shoved his wrist watch farther up his arm with a sigh of overwhelming relief. Nothing had happened. The spell was broken.
‘If you don’t mind waiting a minute,’ he said, ‘I think I’ll have a pipe.’
They paused a while on the eighth tee. Jack filled and lit the pipe with fingers that trembled a little in spite of himself. An enormous weight seemed to have lifted from his mind.
‘Lord, what a good day it is,’ he remarked, staring at the prospect ahead of him with great contentment. ‘Go on, Lavington, your swipe.’
And then it came. Just at the very instant the doctor was hitting. A woman’s voice, high and agonized.
The pipe fell from Jack’s nerveless hand, as he spun round in the direction of the sound, and then, remembering, gazed breathlessly at his companion.
Lavington was looking down the course, shading his eyes.
‘A bit short—just cleared the bunker, though, I think.’
He had heard nothing.
The world seemed to spin round with Jack. He took a step or two, lurching heavily. When he recovered himself, he was lying on the short turf, and Lavington was bending over him.
‘There, take it easy now, take it easy.’
‘What did I do?’
‘You fainted, young man—or gave a very good try at it.’
‘My God!’ said Jack, and groaned.
‘What’s the trouble? Something on your mind?’
‘I’ll tell you in one minute, but I’d like to ask you something first.’
The doctor lit his own pipe and settled himself on the bank.
‘Ask anything you like,’ he said comfortably.
‘You’ve been watching me for the last day or two. Why?’
Lavington’s eyes twinkled a little.
‘That’s rather an awkward question. A cat can look at a king, you know.’
‘Don’t put me off. I’m in earnest. Why was it? I’ve a vital reason for asking.’
Lavington’s face grew serious.
‘I’ll answer you quite honestly. I recognized in you all the signs of a man labouring under a sense of acute strain, and it intrigued me what that strain could be.’
‘I can tell you that easily enough,’ said Jack bitterly. ‘I’m going mad.’
He stopped dramatically, but his statement not seeming to arouse the interest and consternation he expected, he repeated it.
‘I tell you I’m going mad.’
‘Very curious,’ murmured Lavington. ‘Very curious indeed.’
Jack felt indignant.
‘I suppose that’s all it does seem to you. Doctors are so damned callous.’
‘Come, come, my young friend, you’re talking at random. To begin with, although I have taken my degree, I do not practise medicine. Strictly speaking, I am not a doctor—not a doctor of the body, that is.’
Jack looked at him keenly.
‘Of the mind?’
‘Yes, in a sense, but more truly I call myself a doctor of the soul.’
‘I perceive the disparagement in your tone, and yet we must use some word to denote the active principle which can be separated and exist independently of its fleshy home, the body. You’ve got to come to terms with the soul, you know, young man, it isn’t just a religious term invented by clergymen. But we’ll call it the mind, or the subconscious self, or any term that suits you better. You took offence at my tone just now, but I can assure you that it really did strike me as very curious that such a well-balanced and perfectly normal young man as yourself should suffer from the delusion that he was going out of his mind.’
‘I’m out of my mind all right. Absolutely barmy.’
‘You will forgive me for saying so, but I don’t believe it.’
‘I suffer from delusions.’
‘No, in the morning.’
‘Can’t be done,’ said the doctor, relighting his pipe which had gone out.
‘I tell you I hear things that no one else hears.’
‘One man in a thousand can see the moons of Jupiter. Because the other nine hundred and ninety nine can’t see them there’s no reason to doubt that the moons of Jupiter exist, and certainly no reason for calling the thousandth man a lunatic.’
‘The moons of Jupiter are a proved scientific fact.’
‘It’s quite possible that the delusions of today may be the proved scientific facts of tomorrow.’
In spite of himself, Lavington’s matter-of-fact manner was having its effect upon Jack. He felt immeasurably soothed and cheered. The doctor looked at him attentively for a minute or two and then nodded.
‘That’s better,’ he said. ‘The trouble with you young fellows is that you’re so cocksure nothing can exist outside your own philosophy that you get the wind up when something occurs to jolt you out of that opinion. Let’s hear your grounds for believing that you’re going mad, and we’ll decide whether or not to lock you up afterwards.’
As faithfully as he could, Jack narrated the whole series of occurrences.
‘But what I can’t understand,’ he ended, ‘is why this morning it should come at half past seven—five minutes late.’
Lavington thought for a minute or two. Then—
‘What’s the time now by your watch?’ he asked.
‘Quarter to eight,’ replied Jack, consulting it.
‘That’s simple enough, then. Mine says twenty to eight. Your watch is five minutes fast. That’s a very interesting and important point—to me. In fact, it’s invaluable.’
‘In what way?’
Jack was beginning to get interested.
‘Well, the obvious explanation is that on the first morning you did hear some such cry—may have been a joke, may not. On the following mornings, you suggestioned yourself to hear it at exactly the same time.’
‘I’m sure I didn’t.’
‘Not consciously, of course, but the subconscious plays us some funny tricks, you know. But anyway, that explanation won’t wash. If it was a case of suggestion, you would have heard the cry at twenty-five minutes past seven by your watch, and you could never have heard it when the time, as you thought, was past.’
‘Well—it’s obvious, isn’t it? This cry for help occupies a perfectly definite place and time in space. The place is the vicinity of that cottage and the time is twenty-five minutes past seven.’
‘Yes, but why should I be the one to hear it? I don’t believe in ghosts and all that spook stuff—spirits rapping and all the rest of it. Why should I hear the damned thing?’
‘Ah! that we can’t tell at present. It’s a curious thing that many of the best mediums are made out of confirmed sceptics. It isn’t the people who are interested in occult phenomena who get the manifestations. Some people see and hear things that other people don’t—we don’t know why, and nine times out of ten they don’t want to see or hear them, and are convinced that they are suffering from delusions—just as you were. It’s like electricity. Some substances are good conductors, others are non-conductors, and for a long time we didn’t know why, and had to be content just to accept the fact. Nowadays we do know why. Some day, no doubt, we shall know why you hear this thing and I and the girl don’t. Everything’s governed by natural law, you know—there’s no such thing really as the supernatural. Finding out the laws that govern so called psychic phenomena is going to be a tough job—but every little helps.’
‘But what am I going to do?’ asked Jack.
‘Practical, I see. Well, my young friend, you are going to have a good breakfast and get off to the city without worrying your head further about things you don’t understand. I, on the other hand, am going to poke about, and see what I can find out about that cottage back there. That’s where the mystery centres, I dare swear.’
Jack rose to his feet.
‘Right, sir. I’m on, but, I say—’
Jack flushed awkwardly.
‘I’m sure the girl’s all right,’ he muttered.
Lavington looked amused.
‘You didn’t tell me she was a pretty girl! Well, cheer up, I think the mystery started before her time.’
Jack arrived home that evening in a perfect fever of curiosity. He was by now pinning his faith blindly to Lavington. The doctor had accepted the matter so naturally, had been so matter-of-fact and unperturbed by it, that Jack was impressed.
He found his new friend waiting for him in the hall when he came down for dinner, and the doctor suggested that they should dine together at the same table.
‘Any news, sir?’ asked Jack anxiously.
‘I’ve collected the life history of Heather Cottage all right. It was tenanted first by an old gardener and his wife. The old man died, and the old woman went to her daughter. Then a builder got hold of it, and modernized it with great success, selling it to a city gentleman who used it for weekends. About a year ago, he sold it to some people called Turner—Mr and Mrs Turner. They seem to have been rather a curious couple from all I can make out. He was an Englishman, his wife was popularly supposed to be partly Russian, and was a very handsome exotic-looking woman. They lived very quietly, seeing no one, and hardly ever going outside the cottage garden. The local rumour goes that they were afraid of something—but I don’t think we ought to rely on that.
‘And then suddenly one day they departed, cleared out one morning early, and never came back. The agents here got a letter from Mr Turner, written from London, instructing him to sell up the place as quickly as possible. The furniture was sold off, and the house itself was sold to a Mr Mauleverer. He only actually lived in it a fortnight—then he advertised it to be let furnished. The people who have it now are a consumptive French professor and his daughter. They have been there just ten days.’
Jack digested this in silence.
‘I don’t see that that gets us any forrarder,’ he said at last. ‘Do you?’
‘I rather want to know more about the Turners,’ said Lavington quietly. ‘They left very early in the morning, you remember. As far as I can make out, nobody actually saw them go. Mr Turner has been seen since—but I can’t find anybody who has seen Mrs Turner.’
‘It can’t be—you don’t mean—’
‘Don’t excite yourself, young man. The influence of anyone at the point of death—and especially of violent death—upon their surroundings is very strong. Those surroundings might conceivably absorb that influence, transmitting it in turn to a suitably tuned receiver—in this case yourself.’
‘But why me?’ murmured Jack rebelliously. ‘Why not someone who could do some good?’
‘You are regarding the force as intelligent and purposeful, instead of blind and mechanical. I do not believe myself in earthbound spirits, haunting a spot for one particular purpose. But the thing I have seen, again and again, until I can hardly believe it to be pure coincidence, is a kind of blind groping towards justice—a subterranean moving of blind forces, always working obscurely towards that end . . .’
He shook himself—as though casting off some obsession that pre-occupied him, and turned to Jack with a ready smile.
‘Let us banish the subject—for tonight at all events,’ he suggested.
Jack agreed readily enough, but did not find it so easy to banish the subject from his own mind.
During the weekend, he made vigorous inquiries of his own, but succeeded in eliciting little more than the doctor had done. He had definitely given up playing golf before breakfast.
The next link in the chain came from an unexpected quarter. On getting back one day, Jack was informed that a young lady was waiting to see him. To his intense surprise it proved to be the girl of the garden—the pansy girl, as he always called her in his own mind. She was very nervous and confused.
‘You will forgive me, Monsieur, for coming to seek you like this? But there is something I want to tell you—I—’
She looked round uncertainly.
‘Come in here,’ said Jack promptly, leading the way into the now deserted ‘Ladies’ Drawing-room’ of the hotel, a dreary apartment, with a good deal of red plush about it. ‘Now, sit down, Miss, Miss—’
‘Marchaud, Monsieur, Felise Marchaud.’
‘Sit down, Mademoiselle Marchaud, and tell me all about it.’
Felise sat down obediently. She was dressed in dark green today, and the beauty and charm of the proud little face was more evident than ever. Jack’s heart beat faster as he sat down beside her.
‘It is like this,’ explained Felise. ‘We have been here but a short time, and from the beginning we hear the house—our so sweet little house—is haunted. No servant will stay in it. That does not matter so much—me, I can do the ménage and cook easily enough.’
‘Angel,’ thought the infatuated young man. ‘She’s wonderful.’
But he maintained an outward semblance of businesslike attention.
‘This talk of ghosts, I think it is all folly—that is until four days ago. Monsieur, four nights running, I have had the same dream. A lady stands there—she is beautiful, tall and very fair. In her hands she holds a blue china jar. She is distressed—very distressed, and continually she holds out the jar to me, as though imploring me to do something with it—but alas! she cannot speak, and I—I do not know what she asks. That was the dream for the first two nights—but the night before last, there was more of it. She and the blue jar faded away, and suddenly I heard her voice crying out—I know it is her voice, you comprehend—and, oh! Monsieur, the words she says are those you spoke to me that morning. “Murder—Help! Murder!” I awoke in terror. I say to myself—it is a nightmare, the words you heard are an accident. But last night the dream came again. Monsieur, what is it? You too have heard. What shall we do?’
Felise’s face was terrified. Her small hands clasped themselves together, and she gazed appealingly at Jack. The latter affected an unconcern he did not feel.
‘That’s all right, Mademoiselle Marchaud. You mustn’t worry. I tell you what I’d like you to do, if you don’t mind, repeat the whole story to a friend of mine who is staying here, a Dr Lavington.’
Felise signified her willingness to adopt this course, and Jack went off in search of Lavington. He returned with him a few minutes later.
Lavington gave the girl a keen scrutiny as he acknowledged Jack’s hurried introductions. With a few reassuring words, he soon put the girl at her ease, and he, in his turn, listened attentively to her story.
‘Very curious,’ he said, when she had finished. ‘You have told your father of this?’
Felise shook her head.
‘I have not liked to worry him. He is very ill still’—her eyes filled with tears—‘I keep from him anything that might excite or agitate him.’
‘I understand,’ said Lavington kindly. ‘And I am glad you came to us, Mademoiselle Marchaud. Hartington here, as you know, had an experience something similar to yours. I think I may say that we are well on the track now. There is nothing else that you can think of?’
Felise gave a quick movement.
‘Of course! How stupid I am. It is the point of the whole story. Look, Monsieur, at what I found at the back of one of the cupboards where it had slipped behind the shelf.’
She held out to them a dirty piece of drawing-paper on which was executed roughly in water colours a sketch of a woman. It was a mere daub, but the likeness was probably good enough. It represented a tall fair woman, with something subtly un-English about her face. She was standing by a table on which was standing a blue china jar.
‘I only found it this morning,’ explained Felise. ‘Monsieur le docteur, that is the face of the woman I saw in my dream, and that is the identical blue jar.’
‘Extraordinary,’ commented Lavington. ‘The key to the mystery is evidently the blue jar. It looks like a Chinese jar to me, probably an old one. It seems to have a curious raised pattern over it.’
‘It is Chinese,’ declared Jack. ‘I have seen an exactly similar one in my uncle’s collection—he is a great collector of Chinese porcelain, you know, and I remember noticing a jar just like this a short time ago.’
‘The Chinese jar,’ mused Lavington. He remained a minute or two lost in thought, then raised his head suddenly, a curious light shining in his eyes. ‘Hartington, how long has your uncle had that jar?’
‘How long? I really don’t know.’
‘Think. Did he buy it lately?’
‘I don’t know—yes, I believe he did, now I come to think of it. I’m not very interested in porcelain myself, but I remember his showing me his “recent acquisitions”, and this was one of them.’
‘Less than two months ago? The Turners left Heather Cottage just two months ago.’
‘Yes, I believe it was.’
‘Your uncle attends country sales sometimes?’
‘He’s always tooling round to sales.’
‘Then there is no inherent improbability in our assuming that he bought this particular piece of porcelain at the sale of the Turners’ things. A curious coincidence—or perhaps what I call the groping of blind justice. Hartington, you must find out from your uncle at once where he bought this jar.’
Jack’s face fell.
‘I’m afraid that’s impossible. Uncle George is away on the Continent. I don’t even know where to write to him.’
‘How long will he be away?’
‘Three weeks to a month at least.’
There was a silence. Felise sat looking anxiously from one man to the other.
‘Is there nothing that we can do?’ she asked timidly.
‘Yes, there is one thing,’ said Lavington, in a tone of suppressed excitement. ‘It is unusual, perhaps, but I believe that it will succeed. Hartington, you must get hold of that jar. Bring it down here, and, if Mademoiselle permits, we will spend a night at Heather Cottage, taking the blue jar with us.’
Jack felt his skin creep uncomfortably.
‘What do you think will happen?’ he asked uneasily.
‘I have not the slightest idea—but I honestly believe that the mystery will be solved and the ghost laid. Quite possibly there may be a false bottom to the jar and something is concealed inside it. If no phenomena occur, we must use our own ingenuity.’
Felise clasped her hands.
‘It is a wonderful idea,’ she exclaimed.
Her eyes were alight with enthusiasm. Jack did not feel nearly so enthusiastic—in fact, he was inwardly funking it badly, but nothing would have induced him to admit the fact before Felise. The doctor acted as though his suggestion were the most natural one in the world.
‘When can you get the jar?’ asked Felise, turning to Jack.
‘Tomorrow,’ said the latter, unwillingly.
He had to go through with it now, but the memory of the frenzied cry for help that had haunted him each morning was something to be ruthlessly thrust down and not thought about more than could be helped.
He went to his uncle’s house the following evening, and took away the jar in question. He was more than ever convinced when he saw it again that it was the identical one pictured in the water colour sketch, but carefully as he looked it over he could see no sign that it contained a secret receptacle of any kind.
It was eleven o’clock when he and Lavington arrived at Heather Cottage. Felise was on the look-out for them, and opened the door softly before they had time to knock.
‘Come in,’ she whispered. ‘My father is asleep upstairs, and we must not wake him. I have made coffee for you in here.’
She led the way into the small cosy sitting room. A spirit lamp stood in the grate, and bending over it, she brewed them both some fragrant coffee.
Then Jack unfastened the Chinese jar from its many wrappings. Felise gasped as her eyes fell on it.
‘But yes, but yes,’ she cried eagerly. ‘That is it—I would know it anywhere.’
Meanwhile Lavington was making his own preparations. He removed all the ornaments from a small table and set it in the middle of the room. Round it he placed three chairs. Then, taking the blue jar from Jack, he placed it in the centre of the table.
‘Now,’ he said, ‘we are ready. Turn off the lights, and let us sit round the table in the darkness.’
The others obeyed him. Lavington’s voice spoke again out of the darkness.
‘Think of nothing—or of everything. Do not force the mind. It is possible that one of us has mediumistic powers. If so, that person will go into a trance. Remember, there is nothing to fear. Cast out fear from your hearts, and drift—drift—’
His voice died away and there was silence. Minute by minute, the silence seemed to grow more pregnant with possibilities. It was all very well for Lavington to say ‘Cast out fear’. It was not fear that Jack felt—it was panic. And he was almost certain that Felise felt the same way. Suddenly he heard her voice, low and terrified.
‘Something terrible is going to happen. I feel it.’
‘Cast out fear’, said Lavington. ‘Do not fight against the influence.’
The darkness seemed to get darker and the silence more acute. And nearer and nearer came that indefinable sense of menace.
Jack felt himself choking—stifling—the evil thing was very near . . .
And then the moment of conflict passed. He was drifting, drifting down stream—his lids closed—peace—darkness . . .
Jack stirred slightly. His head was heavy—heavy as lead. Where was he?
Sunshine . . . birds . . . He lay staring up at the sky.
Then it all came back to him. The sitting. The little room. Felise and the doctor. What had happened?
He sat up, his head throbbing unpleasantly, and looked round him. He was lying in a little copse not far from the cottage. No one else was near him. He took out his watch. To his amazement it registered half past twelve.
Jack struggled to his feet, and ran as fast as he could in the direction of the cottage. They must have been alarmed by his failure to come out of the trance, and carried him out into the open air.
Arrived at the cottage, he knocked loudly on the door. But there was no answer, and no signs of life about it. They must have gone off to get help. Or else—Jack felt an indefinable fear invade him. What had happened last night?
He made his way back to the hotel as quickly as possible. He was about to make some inquiries at the office, when he was diverted by a colossal punch in the ribs which nearly knocked him off his feet. Turning in some indignation, he beheld a white-haired old gentleman wheezing with mirth.
‘Didn’t expect me, my boy. Didn’t expect me, hey?’ said this individual.
‘Why, Uncle George, I thought you were miles away—in Italy somewhere.’
‘Ah! but I wasn’t. Landed at Dover last night. Thought I’d motor up to town and stop here to see you on the way. And what did I find? Out all night, hey? Nice goings on—’
‘Uncle George,’ Jack checked him firmly. ‘I’ve got the most extraordinary story to tell you. I dare say you won’t believe it.’
‘I dare say I shan’t,’ laughed the old man. ‘But do your best, my boy.’
‘But I must have something to eat,’ continued Jack. ‘I’m famished.’
He led the way to the dining-room, and over a substantial repast, he narrated the whole story.
‘And God knows what’s become of them,’ he ended.
His uncle seemed on the verge of apoplexy.
‘The jar,’ he managed to ejaculate at last. ‘THE BLUE JAR! What’s become of that?’
Jack stared at him in non-comprehension, but submerged in the torrent of words that followed he began to understand.
It came with a rush: ‘Ming—unique—gem of my collection—worth ten thousand pounds at least—offer from Hoggenheimer, the American millionaire—only one of its kind in the world—Confound it, sir, what have you done with my BLUE JAR?’
Jack rushed from the room. He must find Lavington. The young lady at the office eyed him coldly.
‘Dr Lavington left late last night—by motor. He left a note for you.’
Jack tore it open. It was short and to the point.
My dear young friend,
Is the day of the supernatural over? Not quite—especially when tricked out in new scientific language. Kindest regards from Felise, invalid father, and myself. We have twelve hours start, which ought to be ample.
Doctor of the Soul.